December 1, 2023 // Diocese

NCYC Experience Helps Teen Strive to Be ‘Fully Alive’

By Sophia Wheeler

Joy – that is the one word I would use to describe the National Catholic Youth Conference experience. The event, held November 16-18 in Indianapolis, filled me with pure joy and excitement like I’ve never felt before. From crafts and games to singing out for the Lord, the joy of the young Church was indeed “fully alive.”

The passion of the Catholic Church continues to burn. During the course of the event – and since returning home – I have been a witness to a true devotion and love toward Jesus Christ, Who is truly present – body, blood, soul, and divinity – in the blessed Eucharist. 

Photos provided by Sophia Wheeler
Youths from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend take a photo in front of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument while exploring downtown Indianapolis during their November 16-18 trip to the National Catholic Youth Conference.

I first traveled to NCYC as a freshman in the fall of 2021. I always felt as if I was a part of a small minority of Catholic youth who really cared about their faith. My attendance at NCYC changed my view of the Church. NCYC showed me firsthand the fire that was burning inside of so many high schoolers across our country. I was strengthened in my faith, and a new spark was lit in my heart. I wanted to take the energy and joy of Christ that I experienced back into my high school, my parish, and my family.  

The National Catholic Youth Conference gave me the opportunity to see the Catholic Church on a larger scale for the very first time. This experience was life-changing since, previously, I had only seen vibrant Catholic youth on a parish level. I was left speechless after witnessing the number of teens all radiating the love of Christ on the first night at the opening ceremony. For me, it was the first step of branching out into the larger Church, which later led me to attend World Youth Day in Portugal this past summer. NCYC introduced me to a Church so much bigger than my little Catholic circle. NCYC gave me the opportunity to meet people from states across the country.

A group from St. Jude Church in Fort Wayne takes a picture in front of the iconic NCYC sign at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis.

One of the most memorable experiences from NCYC was Eucharistic adoration. It is so hard to imagine thousands of people all adoring Christ’s True Presence in the Eucharist. The crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium went from singing, dancing, and yelling to reverently kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament. Before attending NCYC, I always heard older generations describe the Church as dying, but it was clear in this moment that they are wrong. This generation of Catholics doesn’t just perform the actions of going to Mass and following the commandments, but they have a true friendship with Christ. They have a relationship with Him. The moment Jesus entered the stadium, the massive crowd went silent. A place that is normally filled with screaming fans awaiting a Colts touchdown was now filled with the Holy Spirit and more than 13,000 teens eagerly anticipating the coming of Jesus Christ.

Thousands of teens kneel during Eucharistic adoration at Lucas Oil Stadium as part of the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis, which was held November 16-18.

The theme of this year’s NCYC was “Fully Alive.” Throughout the event, we learned what it means to be fully alive in a world where many people live as if they are half-dead. NCYC is not just a conference or a retreat; it is a journey. As a Catholic family united together, we learned about creation, human dignity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and the Eighth Day. The weekend was filled with life-changing speakers from across the country. We heard the message repeated throughout the weekend that “the Life of Man is the Vision of Christ.” From the moment of creation, we were given destiny and dignity. We were given a purpose for life and for the struggles – and we were given worthiness. Father John Kartje, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, who spoke on Thursday, November 16, told the crowd that “we are not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be revealed.” As a youth living in a world that is full of comparison, these messages really struck me – messages of hope and purpose.

Throughout the conference, we were given opportunities to hear from many great speakers during breakout sessions. During some of the sessions I attended, speakers focused on topics such as being a part of the pro-life generation and the importance of spiritual friendships. Katie Prejean McGrady, a Catholic speaker, podcaster, and radio host, spoke to my heart about the challenges of friendship. She explained that “comparative and competitive natures sneak into our lives and ruin them.” This served as a call for me in a world that so often tells us to leave others behind. Christ was calling me to realize what is important in life and how true Christian friendships are more important than selfish desires. We are made for community, and NCYC is the best example of a true Catholic family. 

Before the closing Mass of NCYC, our group of pilgrims from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend was blessed to have dinner with Bishop Rhoades. It was great to see that this “fully alive” Church was not something far off in the distance. This living Church could be found right in my own diocese. It was within my high school and my parish. This dinner with the youth of diocese was filled with joy. I felt so honored to have Bishop Rhoades attending NCYC alongside us. There were 22 bishops in attendance, and it was special having our bishop among them.

The 12 attendees from St. Jude Parish in Fort Wayne take a break from the day to share lunch together at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis. They catch up and share about their day so far.

The entire experience of NCYC is life-changing, but the moment the priests, deacons, and bishops began to process in for the closing Mass, my heart was changed forever. More than 200 priests, 22 bishops, and countless deacons and seminarians gathered together to celebrate Mass with us. This closing Mass was so beautiful, and the life of the Church was truly visible. Thirteen thousand voices gathered together to praise the Lord.

Bishop Joseph Espaillat, Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of New York – and, at age 47, the youngest bishop in the United States – gave a jaw-dropping homily at the closing Mass. He challenged the youth of the Church to live with joy rather than with fear. He told us that worldly fear creates anxiety and pain, and it takes away our peace and our faith. When we fall into worldly fear, we turn away from Christ’s challenge. 

My experience at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis has taught me how to be “fully alive.” It has taught me what it means to live an authentically Catholic life, and it showed me the importance of community. Bishop Espaillat taught us three simple ways to stay “fully alive.” He said, “Have faith, have fun, and have family and friends.” These three simple tasks have changed my life since returning from NCYC. They have helped me to realize what is most important and to make Christ the center of my life. 

Sophia Wheeler is a junior at Bishop Dwenger High School. She is a parishioner at St. Jude Parish in Fort Wayne.


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